Cherry Tree Children’s Centre in Dulwich is set to close due to lack of funds, not long after its chief executive was awarded a £36,000 pay rise and £12,000 in back pay.
Parents of the children attending the special needs nursery, which is due to close next month, decided to fight the closure in the highest court.
They have already raised thousands of pounds for the judicial review of the decision, threatening the loss of 67 childcare spaces, as well as 20 jobs.
The chief executive of The Great North Wood Education Trust and headteacher of Rosendale Primary School, Kate Atkins, ordered the children’s centre and the nursery to close down within months of getting a pay rise.
One of the parents said to London News Online: “We find the most shocking part being the 18 months’ backdated, increased pay – from March 2017 to October 2018 – at a time when The Trust knows it has to save money and is cutting back on services in The Trust itself.”
The minutes say of its savings: “These included the loss of Music Trax, the gardener and artist in residence, and reductions in speech and language provision and IT support. Free adult meals would also be terminated.”
The Great North Wood Education Trust took over the Cherry Tree Children’s Centre from Lambeth council in 2017.
Parents received the shocking news on April 5th, just after The Trust’s main site shut down for the Easter holidays, and were informed that they would have to wait for another three weeks before having an official meeting regarding the closure.
One of the mothers said: “The manner in which The Trust has conducted itself is absolutely appalling.
“Some of the children have special education needs, and there’s been no proper assessment as to how they will be impacted.”
Another parent added: “How the chief executive, Kate Atkins, can justify taking £12k in a back-pay agreement, as well as increasing her salary to £90k per annum, when it appears The Trust can’t even keep a heavily-subsidised, oversubscribed nursery open.
“Closing Cherry Tree makes absolutely no sense at all. We’ve asked lots of questions of The Trust and the figures we received, after making FOI requests, make little sense. There should be no way a successful children’s centre and nursery can be transferred to a multi-academy trust in a way that puts it on the road to closure.”
Cherry Tree Action Group (CTAG), a group of more than 60 parents, want to establish a not-for-profit, local co-operative and take over the management of the centre if The Trust continues with the closure. But even this would not start until the spring of next year.
A spokesperson for CTAG said: “This situation should never have happened. If the council and The Trust had sat down and dealt with this properly six to eight months ago, our children would still have a nursery to go to.
“A way must be found to keep Cherry Tree open until new management is phased in. Otherwise, Cherry Tree is unlikely to reopen as it exists today; or indeed, possibly ever again.”
CTAG has asked the council to momentarily restore its employee pension subsidy, so that The Trust can extend its tenure and ensure a smooth transfer; and to ask for all the furniture to be left at the centre.
Parents say the town hall should have informed them about the closure of the nursery.
They also argue that there were no provisions in the employee pension handover, which blew a hole in the balance sheet of The Trust.
A spokesperson for the Lambeth council, said: “Cherry Tree is currently a school-run childcare facility and is not funded by Lambeth council.
“Since converting to academy status, Rosendale School, which runs Cherry Tree, has faced significant financial pressure and can no longer afford to continue running childcare at the site.
“Childcare services are scheduled to end at the end of August 2019, to allow parents to make alternative arrangements.
“Lambeth council has worked with Rosendale School on trying to maintain this provision and will now look at alternative uses for the building in the future, including the possibility of a new childcare provider taking over the site.”
Ms Atkins declined to comment on the subject.